13 February 2020

Alone in Berlin Review

Hans Fallada's novel Alone in Berlin is given its world premiere at the Royal and Derngate in Northampton.
Denis Conway as Otto Quangel and Charlotte Emmerson as Anna Quangel. Photo by Manuel Harlan.

The novel is translated and adapted for the stage by Alistair Beaton and takes us to Berlin in the midst of World War 2. It's based on a true story of a working-class couple who begin a small act of writing and spreading postcards resisting the Nazi rule in the hope that others follow.

The play switches the focus brilliantly between the two acts. Act one focuses on character building, focusing heavily on Otto and Anna Quangel and the beginning of their postcard distribution. The second act switches the focus on to the Gestapo's attempt to catch these resistance fighters. The second act is particularly thrilling as the tension ramps up as we head towards the conclusion of the play.

Denis Conway as Otto Quangel and Charlotte Emmerson as Anna Quangel are excellently believable as a couple of the heart of the story. You can fully understand why they'd be disillusioned by everything going around them as they struggle to make ends meet. They make a charming couple together.

Jay Taylor is commanding as SS Officer Prall, he's effective with his brutality. If all the SS officers were like this it's not hard to see why the German people would cower away in fear. Joseph Marcell does an outstanding job as Inspector Escherich. He is a torn man with his superiors holding his life by a string. He carries emotion superbly and lights up the stage in every scene.

Joseph Marcell as Inspector Escherich, Jay Taylor as SS Officer Prall and Jessica Walker as Golden Elsie. Photo by Manuel Harlan.

Julius D'Silva's Klaus Borkhausen and Clive Mendus's Benno Kluge add an air of comedy robbers in their roles. The pair bounce off each other wonderfully well but both have their own motives which play out interestingly.

Jessica Walker is basically playing a version of Emcee from Cabaret. Pale-faced with makeup, she sings songs, composed by Orlando Gough, that break up the scene changes. Whilst this worked in places it did also feel like it slowed down the plot. Jessica adds a great presence as she looms in the backgrounds of scenes. Abiola Ogunbiyi adds an extra layer of tension, especially as the conclusion comes, as Trudi Baumann.

Alistair Beaton's script and James Dacre's direction allow the play to breathe and flow at a great pace and the whole production is enhanced by outstanding visual design. Jonathan Fenson's set is black and dark with only a few props being used. Charles Balfour's lighting is atmospheric and powerfully adds to the tension. Nina's Dunn's projection work is stunning, it allows the audience to travel from place to place and feel and see parts of the journey, it's a genius piece of design.

The whole play is a gripping couple of hours. As tension rises, I found myself on the edge of my seat completely hooked by this powerful tale. The believable performances and fantastic atmosphere of the design really place you at the heart of this tale. I for one didn't want to resist against this play and didn't want it to end, superb.

Rating - ★★★★ a tense and gripping production enhanced with outstanding design and believable performances.

Denis Conway as Otto Quangel, Jessica Walker as Golden Elsie and Charlotte Emmerson as Anna Quangel. Photo by Manuel Harlan.
Alone in Berlin continues at the Royal and Derngate until Saturday 29th February 2020. With tickets available from https://www.royalandderngate.co.uk/. The play also visits York's Theatre Royal from 3rd to 21st March (https://www.yorktheatreroyal.co.uk/) and The Oxford Playhouse  (https://www.oxfordplayhouse.com/)  from 24th to 28th March 2020.

5 February 2020

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical Review

The Tony and Olivier award-winning musical, Beautiful, based on the life of Carole King comes to Northampton as part of it's UK tour.
Daisy Wood-Davis as Carole King. Photo by Helen Maybanks.

A biographical jukebox musical that tells of the rise of Carole King from an ordinary 16-year-old girl through heartbreak to the legend of the music business that she went on to become. Jukebox musicals can sometimes suffer where they try and fit in the musical numbers with the plot but with Beautiful, these numbers are central to everything that happens. As the songs are created it allows the audience to delve right into Carole's mind.

A nostalgic trip down memory lane for a large percentage of the audience from whom would have been around during the period the musical is set. Many of the references to Carole's contemporaries might be a little lost on me but there was enough to keep me engaged. Marc Bruni's performance is slick and moves along at a good pace.

The show is naturally blessed by the musical numbers which feature. Covering many of the hits of the day written by King ranging from 'One Fine Day', '(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman', 'You've Got A Friend' and 'The Loco-Motion'. The off-stage orchestra under musical director Andrew Corcoran brings the numbers to life excellent across the performance.
The company of Beautiful. Photo by Helen Maybanks

Daisy Wood-Davis is outstanding as Carole King. She's believable and enchanting to watch. Add in her stunning vocal performance, which really comes to the fore in solo numbers. You are really watching a star at work.

Laura Baldwin is another performer that you feel like you're watching a star shine anytime she's on stage. She's a magnificent actress and singer and is wonderful as Cynthia Weil. Adam Gillan is great as Gerry Goffin, conveying the turmoil he felt effectively. Cameron Sharp is a really likeable actor to watch and does a fine job as Barry Mann. Oliver Boot brilliantly portrays Donnie Kirshner.

You could argue that the plot is a little thin but everything around it makes up for it especially the musical performances. It's a tremendous celebration of the great Carole King and her musical legacy. An uplifting toe-tapping delight for all ages not just to older ones.

Rating - ★★★★ a wonderful celebration of an outstanding musician delivered by a hugely talented cast.
Oliver Boot (Donnie Kirshner), Adam Gillan (Gerry Goffin), Daisy Wood-Davis (Carole King), Cameron Sharp (Barry Mann)  and Laura Baldwin (Cynthia Weil). Photo by Helen Maybanks.

Beautiful plays at the Derngate in Northampton till Saturday 8th February. Visit http://royalandderngate.co.uk/ to book. It then continues to tour. http://beautifulmusical.co.uk/

3 February 2020

Behind The Scenes on The Boy in the Dress (Gifted)

I was lucky enough to receive an invite from the Royal Shakespeare Company inviting me along to have a backstage look at their tremendous production of The Boy in the Dress which is currently running in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon.

The musical is a stage adaptation of the novel by David Walliams. Brought to life in an adaptation by Mark Ravenhill and with an outstanding musical score written by Robbie Williams and Guy Chambers. It combines humour with great warmth, a toe-tapping score and is a perfect show for all the family.

Our day began meeting outside stage door with some fellow bloggers and RSC Social Media Manager, Amy, who took us inside the building where we were greeted by the company manager, Robbie, who took us backstage for a look around.

We started in one of the change areas that are kept on either side of the stage. These allow the actors to change their costumes, wigs or make-up without having to climb back up to their dressing rooms which are upstairs. It was great details of the design work up close, Robert Jones has done a fine job designing the world the musical is set in - a modern-day England but also quite cartoon-like.

         
         
From this area, we entered one of the wings where some of larger stage pieces including some of the houses are kept. This is also where the car Daversh's mum uses in the first act. The car is electric and is driven and controlled by actress Natasha Lewis.

         
Also kept in this area is a large props storage where both big and large items are stored and ready for use in the production. The football sequences are superbly staged, whilst you may see some of the balls on sticks here you have to see the show to really appreciate the work the company in the scenes. I can't imagine a better way to stage a football sequence on stage.

        
We then walked around the space behind the auditorium where the audience comes into their seats if they're in the stalls. If you've ever been the RST and sat in the stalls you will notice curtains as you walk to your seats. Behind these curtains are kept more of the stage props and also quick-change areas. In the photos below you can see the two shelf units from Raj's shop.

         
We then headed to the other side of the stage where more of the props and set pieces are kept. These included more of the houses, the funfair set for the act two number 'Beach Holiday Sunday'. There is another changing area for the company where more costumes, wigs and makeup is stored. Here we were shown the very important snot that is used in act one when Dennis has a cold during the football match.

         

         

We were then taken on to the stage. We'd observed some of the stage crew vacuuming and moping the stage ready for the performance. They have to do this to make sure the stage mechanics work, even the smallest amount of dirt can could cause the mechanics to malfunction. There are a few bits of scenery stored under the stage which come up through the stage floor and from either of the wings hence some lines on the stage (as you can see on the stage floor). The RSC has a great amount of storage space, both behind the stage, to the sides and above.

         

Whilst we were on the stage we were able to meet two of the stars of the show, Ben Thompson who puppeteers the dog Oddbod. Ben does such a superb job bringing Oddbod to life, so mesmerising is the puppetry that you honestly forget Ben is there controlling him. Ben showed us the controls that operate the head and tail and talked us through his the experience of working on the production. We had a lovely discussion about the children's reaction to Oddbod - as you can imagine they love him.

        

We rounded off the tour by seeing a couple more areas where they keep some of the set including Raj's shop. We were shown where the large glitter balls which feature in 'Disco Symphony' hang above the stage ready to be brought in. This concluded a brilliant look backstage on the production. Seeing the set and props up close really shows the detail and skill that goes into bringing theatre to life. All the staging and costumes are created in the Royal Shakespeare Company workshops and the craft that has gone into everything really pays off.

        

After the brilliant tour, we headed to the Rooftop Restaurant for lunch prior to the 2pm performance. We were given a couple of lovely keepsakes from the day which was really kind and we all decided what we were going to drink and eat. I chose the roast pork from the Sunday lunch menu and it was delicious. As a table, we all agreed around the table how tasty the food was.

       

After the lovely lunch, we headed down to theatre for the performance. I've already reviewed the production on the press night (the full review is here) and gave it a richly deserved 5 stars but it's been a couple of months since I then and it has really strengthened. At the performance, Jackson Laing played the lead role of Dennis (a role that is shared by 4 boys). He was magnificent, a brilliant star in the making. Asha Banks shone as Lisa James, she has such a lovely vocal quality. Zachary Loonie as John and Arjun Singh Khakh as Darvesh were both superb too.

There are many great performances throughout the adult cast but to pick out a few; Irvine Iqbal's Raj is hilarious. Forbes Masson is perfectly cast as Mr Hawtey, none more so is this evident that 'A Life Of Discipline' in Act Two. Rufus Hound is touching as Dad. Charlotte Wakefield is a lovely actress to watch and she's effective as Mum and as Miss Windsor.

It was a joy and a privilege to get to watch this marvellous production and to get to see backstage. I'd like to thank Dean, Amy and Robbie from the RSC and to my fellow bloggers who it was lovely to meet, especially Emmie (please visit her great blog Carpie Diem Emmie) who it was wonderful to spend some time with, boy did we laugh and have a good bop to Disco Symphony! We even had David Walliams and Guy Chambers sat on the row behind us.

I wholeheartedly recommend you catch this 5-star perfect family production which runs at The Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon until Sunday 8th March 2020. Visit http://www.rsc.org.uk/ to book or to find out more information.

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